This vote was on a Democratic amendment aimed at reducing the backlog of untested DNA evidence collected during law enforcement investigations of sexual assault cases.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation renewing the Violence Against Women Act, which provides grants and other assistance to reduce domestic and sexual violence. Sen. Klobuchar’s amendment would have increased funding for grants to reduce the national backlog of “rape kits,” which are used to collect evidence in alleged sexual assault cases. Advocacy groups estimate that the evidence collected in hundreds of thousands of sexual assault cases has not been analyzed, often because local crime labs are short of funding. Sen. Klobuchar’s amendment also would have given more assistance to local law enforcement in sexual assault cases, and it would have allowed an audit of the national rape kit backlog.
Sen. Klobuchar’s amendment was pitted against a competing amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Sen. Cornyn’s amendment was similar to Sen. Klobuchar’s amendment, but it included extra provisions that would set minimum prison sentences for sexual offenders, mandate an audit of the national rape kit backlog, and create a national DNA database. It also included a “Sense of the Senate” provision – essentially a statement of the Senate’s opinion that is not legally binding – calling on a classified-ad website to take down its “adult services” section, which Sen. Cornyn said had been used by child sex traffickers.
No senators spoke out against Sen. Klobuchar’s amendment, but some Republicans said they supported Sen. Cornyn’s amendment instead because it included the sentencing requirements for convicted sex offenders and other extra provisions.
“I believe the Cornyn amendment, which I voted for, is better policy,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a statement on his website.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) argued that Sen. Klobuchar’s amendment was a better approach. For example, the national DNA database created by Sen. Cornyn’s amendment would be unworkable and divert funding that could otherwise be used to increase crime lab resources, he said.
“The Cornyn amendment is well-intentioned, but it will undermine, rather than enhance, the progress we have made” in addressing the backlog of rape kits,” Sen. Leahy said.
Even though Sen. Klobuchar’s amendment received 57 “yea” votes and only 41 voted “nay,” the amendment was defeated because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 52 Democrats and 5 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 41 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to increase funding to reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence collected during law enforcement investigations of sexual assault cases.